By Marcus Leach
Data released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on Monday showed that over one in 10 town and city centre shops across the UK were vacant at the end of May.
The research also highlighted the fact that overall footfall between May and July was 1 % lower than the same period a year earlier. Falling shopper numbers in the UK were driven by a 1.9% fall in people visiting out-of-town complexes.
The number of people entering shopping centres rose by 0.6%. Over the last 12 months high streets on average have seen the highest drop in footfall of 2.6%.
The hardest hit locations were Wales (-9.2%), the West Midlands (-6.6%) and the East of England (-6.2%) which recorded the sharpest decreases in footfall. Greater London (1.6%), the South West (0.4%) and Scotland (0.2%) were the only locations that saw shopper numbers rise.
The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 11.2% in May 2011 (high streets and shopping centres). Northern Ireland (17.1%), Wales (13.4%) and the North and Yorkshire (13.1%) recorded the highest vacancy rates.
July's footfall counts rose for all types of shopping locations compared with June due to the combination of summer sales and the start of school holidays.
"In July, all types of shopping locations saw reduced footfall year-on-year and that was before the effect of this month's disturbances in England," Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.
"Fewer people are shopping because households are facing high inflation, low wage growth and uncertainty about future job prospects. But that's slightly offset by hard-up customers spreading their spending over more but less costly shopping trips.
"This is the first time we've been able to publish footfall and vacancy figures in this level of detail and it shows stark differences in retail health between some of the UK's nations and regions. Generally, the parts of the UK where the public sector is a bigger proportion of the economy are the ones where customer spending is most likely to be hit by worries about job prospects and cuts, meaning people are shopping less and more retail businesses are failing. By both measures, Northern Ireland and Wales are suffering particularly badly."
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